Egypt’s El Gouna Film Festival is being put on hiatus this year after five successful editions in what could be a precursor to the event being permanently scrapped or radically reshaped.
In a statement, fest organizers said “a decision was made to postpone the festival” which was scheduled to run Oct. 13-22 in the Egyptian Red Sea resort.
As for the reason, the nebulous statement, posted to social media, said the fest — which is now in its 6th edition — is being postponed “in view of the vital role” it’s played “in the art and tourism sectors, both locally and internationally,” which is now being re-thought “in view of current global challenges.”
Competition between Arab film fests has been increasingly fierce with the deep-pocketed Red Sea Festival in Saudi Arabia joining the fray last year, alongside the Cairo and Marrakech fests. These events are all slotted in the year’s fourth quarter when the climate across the region is more favorable.
Further complicating matters is Egypt’s current economic crisis, which is likely to impact sponsors willing to invest in the El Gouna fest. In addition, there’s the country’s depressed real estate market which is known to have been among the reasons the event was initially set up. Also, tourism in Egypt’s Red Sea area is being impacted by the war between Russia and Ukraine, whose citizens represent about 40% of beach tourists who travel to Egypt annually.
El Gouna was launched in 2017 by Egyptian telecom billionaire Naguib Sawiris, whose brother Samih built the El Gouna resort in a swathe of desert near Hurghada, a tourist town 250 miles south of Cairo.
The resort, which since the fest’s inception is believed to have seen a nice increase in sales of its units to wealthy Egyptians, now has a new Cannes Palais des Festivals-like conference center, featuring a large open-air space created for staging concerts and film screenings.
Expert artistic director Intishal Al Timimi has rapidly put El Gouna on the international festival map by proving its mettle in promoting the cream of the region’s cinematic crop while also providing key support in nurturing new works through the CineGouna market. Despite his efforts, however, the decision to postpone the event appears to confirm the region’s volatility when it comes to the durability of ambitious film fests.
Al Timini, reached by Variety, declined to comment.
In 2015, the Abu Dhabi Film Festival, where Al Timimi was in charge of Arab films, was scrapped after eight editions during which the event had gradually earned a significant spot on the international festival circuit. In 2018, the Dubai Film Festival was shuttered after a 14-year stint in which it had become the top film event in the region. Similar to El Gouna, Dubai’s announcement was made with an opaque press release announcing “a new approach.”